Sports & Religion Today
Religion and sports make good teammates.
For Chard-Yaron, this combination of Jews and sports was not something unique. She played Division I college softball at Columbia University and has been a member of the Israeli National Softball team since its inception in 2003.
While at Columbia, Chard-Yaron was an active member of the school's large Jewish population. Though she played softball on Shabbat, she made other accommodations to be more comfortable with her level of observance. After pitching a no-hitter during her senior season, she was almost embarrassed to learn that Hillel had sent out a large e-mail congratulating her on the accomplishment.
On further analysis, Chard-Yaron realized that the reason Hillel sent the announcement was the same reason Jews always seem interested in Jewish athletes. "It's a natural affinity for a minority group to feel a connection to one of their own who's succeeding in something that's well known and popular." In this case, Columbia's Jewish community was viewing her the same way that she watched Shawn Green, an outfielder for the New York Mets and one of the most well-known current Jewish athletes. "When he was on the Dodgers and they played the Padres, I rooted for the Padres, but didn't mind it if Green went 4-5 with a home run," she said.
"Jewish for Sports Purposes"
Keeping track of the short list of Jewish athletes is the Jewish Sports Review. Run out of Los Angeles by co-publishers and editors Ephraim Moxson and Shel Wallman, the Review maintains the most complete and accurate list of Jewish athletes. Around in its current form since 1997, the magazine relies on considerable research to keep its 900 subscribers updated on which athletes are Jewish and which Jewish-athletes are good. The Review covers each of the major professional sports as well as many college sports putting out its own all-star and all-America teams each season.
Simplifying the debate of who is a Jew, Moxson has a phrase he uses as his standard for printing, "Jewish for sports purposes." Defining this further, Moxson says that to qualify as a Jew for the Review, an athlete must have at least one Jewish parent and not practice any other religion. The magazine speaks to the athlete, a family member, or a coach before publishing that someone is Jewish. The research comes in a variety of ways. First, scanning online team rosters for Jewish sounding names and heavily Jewish hometowns helps to identify possibilities.
In many instances though, an athlete's Judaism is brought to the attention of the Review by the most knowledgeable of sources--parents and grandparents. Jon Scheyer, a regular on the Duke University basketball team and a member of the ACC All-Freshman Team last year, was found when his proud grandmother called the Review while Scheyer was still a high school student in suburban Chicago.
"It's a fun magazine to put out," Moxson says. As to why he'll spend three hours a day doing research, Moxson has a simple answer, "I'm proud of what I am... Jews are probably the best fans in the world."
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